Distrust and the New Cold War

Trump's decision, on ostensibly humanitarian grounds, five days ago to bomb a Syrian military airfield has had some of the most complex effects on public opinion yet seen in a Presidential action of this type.

Historically, such acts are highly polarising but this one has seen fundamental differences of opinion about appropriate action filtered through a miasma of widespread distrust of information sources and actors and a clear tension between the political positions of the official actors on the one hand and the scepticism or bar room posturing on the other of their populations.

This fog around the incident arises from a convergence of four sets of distrust: first, a history of US (in particular) now demonstrable false flag, weak intelligence and psychological operations, of which the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was merely the most obvious, all magnified by conspiracy theory; second, awareness that the opponents of the US are also no slouches at disinformation and misinformation; third, growing distrust of activist claims masquerading as journalism; and, finally, the recent construction of a narrative of 'fake news' as a political act against Donald Trump by the mainstream media.

A perfect storm emerged last week on one basic truth - the President acted out of expectation on the basis of unverified information without intent to investigate further in a way that violated the sovereignty of another nation and contested space with a rival nuclear power. Beyond the partisan position for and against Russia, for or against Assad and for or against the priority of the struggle against Islamic State, the President looked unstable, not helped by today's claim that the decision may have owed something to the emotional demands of his daughter!

It could be said that Trump's instant reaction to a horror is to his credit but only if it is true that the horror was as he was led to believe it was. This is where the doubts started to set in and the question automatically arose whether emotional reactions to incidents are the right way to deal with problems involving, potentially, the lives and property of milions, perhaps billions of people. The unthinking nature of the reaction split his own movement within hours - he was condemned by Nigel Farage and Marie Le Pen as well as by dissidents like Ron Paul and Tulsi Gabbard.

Moreover, he was suddenly praised by all those who, only days before, were his dedicated enemies, calling his supporters deplorables. The security establishment, new cold warriors, the British and the French jumped into confrontational mode with Russia as if this was the best chance they had to lock the President into their model of the universe. And yet ... and yet ... we still had no facts on the case, the sourcing of aspects of it were highly suspect (though not the fact of the use of some form of chemical agent) and there seemed to be no intent to investigate further.

As the days unfolded, these gaps created the opportunity for a distrust and scepticism fuelled by social media, driven not by simple partisan positions but by a sense that 'it was all happening again' and even that Trump had been manipulated into a confrontational position with Russia by an elite that was playing Risk with people's lives. Above all, the narrative of a Syria deliberately using banned weapons looked increasingly flakey just as the evidence (to date) showed it to be not entirely impossible that it was a 'false flag' operation by rebels or proxies. As of today, we know too little to judge.